I used to work for NOVA.

I used to work for NOVA, first on a working holiday visa from March 2003 to August 2004, and then from September 2004 until October 2005 as a full timer (A40, a 40 hour a week contract). I started in the Fukuoka, Tenjin branch until May 2005, and then the Tenjin IMS branch until I finally had had enough and quit.

Trivia note: my OJT (On the Job Training, your first 4 days are spent being indoctrinated and trained. You get to teach full paying students on your second day, the students hate it.) was done by one of the main writers of the new Diplomat textbook (Diplocrap is the in-house written text book, written by people with very little teaching experience except for NOVA.)

I originally arrived in Japan on February 14th, 2003 without a job. I had enough money for about 2 months, and a plane ticket. I applied for every job I could, and the only company that would take a qualified (I have a CELTA a basic teaching certificate) but inexperienced teacher was NOVA. I had heard it was bad, but I didn’t know how bad. Anyway, I got the job. I got the feeling they’d take anyone with a degree, regardless of qualifications who could speak English.

I came to Japan for a few different reasons. One was to learn Japanese (I want to learn Japanese because I like Manga and Anime), which working part time meant I could spend time studying, and also to get away from Australia. I had got bored with my life there. I was a web developer and after the IT bubble went kaput, there wasn’t a lot of interesting work left for me. I had worked for about 8 years before I came to Japan.

In 2002, I spent about 2 months travelling all over Japan from Tokyo down to Kyushu. It was for me a great (but expensive) time.

When I started at NOVA, I enjoyed it and thought being an AT (an Assistant Trainer, basically a supervisor) or a Trainer (Trainers get to do to OJT) might be good. (I did change my mind after about 12 months.) The school was busy, and well, working part time wasn’t too bad. But then when I went full time it started getting worse.

I have never lived in a NOVA apartment (NOVA apartments are overpriced. They cram 3 people, who usually don’t know each other, into what is really a 2 person apartment), nor used JMA (Japan Medical Association, NOVA’s sham insurance agency designed to circumvent Japanese law regarding mandatory health and insurance payments.) I lived in a hotel for the first week, and then found an apartment to share in Meinohama, where I lived for 2 years.

NOVA has about 5000 to 6000 foreign teachers in Japan, the largest employer of foreigners. (The Hostessing Industry has more foreign workers, but they all work for small establishments.) The work is mundane and routine (NOVA, not hostessing). The text books are sub-standard, and the company has no work ethic at all.

The previous AAM (Assistant Area Manager, you’re supervisor’s supervisor, responsible for approving holidays, allocating shifts and so on. If you piss them off, you life becomes hell.) wasn’t too bad a bloke, but then he left and Neil Pullen took over. Things started going downhill. Both the changes due to the company cutting costs (no overtime, etc) and also the implementation in Kyushu of the Ideal Schedule (The Ideal Schedule is a management dream, it tries to maximise teacher efficiency by allocating resources as efficiently as possible). As a result, I got sent to some of the schools in the arse end of Fukuoka for one day, or just one 40 minute lesson. Although, I didn’t have it as bad as some of my friends, it was still annoying.

Also Neil’s mismanagement, lying, deceitfulness, etc. made it worse. There were a one time when he altered my schedule in IMS giving me a huge slab of Training/OBS (Training/OBS are free lessons, usually used as transport fakes, or to do things, usually plebs like me never got them) for no reason. And then lied to cover it up. (Ok, I don’t know it was him, but I don’t think it could have been anyone else.)

NOVA lessons are 40 minutes long. You have up to 4 students, and you sit in basically a little office cubicle. You don’t really have much time to prepare, and you don’t really need to. The text book is formulaic and the plans have been done for you. You can vary the plan, but you have to stick to the book. A full day is 8 lessons. 4 before lunch, and 4 after. You either start at 10am, 11:40pm, 1:20 or on a short day at 5pm. It might seem okay, but it becomes a grind after a while.

IMS wasn’t too bad a school, an easy schedule, a lot of frees and a good location. However it was housewife hell, and man to man every day with a house wife who just doesn’t get better started to really sap the energy from me. I’m pretty sure that after some of those lessons, they were younger and I was much, much older.

NOVA’s main management problem stems from a lack of depth. Most managers come over first as instructors, and then slowly work their way up the food chain. Not many of them have any people management skills, which is probably the most important skill required. Most ATs, who directly supervise new instructors aren’t there because they are good at what they do, they are there because they are lucky in getting the job, because they were promoted to encourage them to go to a new school, they wanted the extra money or power, or they are mates with an AAM. Very few are promoted because they are good at what they do. Most AAMs, the area managers who look after a few schools (but don’t teach) are there because they are of the same thinking as head office. It’s very 1984.

Now I work part time for 2 schools for about 20 hours a week teaching English the way it should be taught to students who really want to learn. I make enough to live on. And I have a lot of free time.

I had planned to leave NOVA a year ago, but I had to move house quickly at the end of December, 2004, I was trying to study for the Japanese language test and also went back to Australia for a holiday, and so finding a new job was low on my list of things to do at that time.

But the opportunity came up last September to ease out of NOVA and into part time work. So, over two months I used all my paid holiday to work the second job, and then quit NOVA at the end of November. It was, for me, lucky.

If you want to come to Asia, then look into China, Korea and elsewhere. If you really want to come to Japan, then try the JET program or ECC first, as they have the best working conditions. Then AEON and GEOS. Finally, if you have no other choice use NOVA.

Try and learn some Japanese, even if it’s only ‘konnichiwa’ (hello), numbers and the phonetic alphabet (katakana) and so on. It’ll make life a lot easier. And also get a qualification like a CELTA. You’ll also need to bring a lot of money, at least two thousand Australian dollars otherwise you’ll end up with lots of problems for the first few months just surviving on the initial NOVA salary.

If you come over with NOVA stay for 6 or 7 months and start looking for another job (the best time is January to March). Once you get a new job, apply for your paid holidays, and once they have been approved, quit. Your visa isn’t tied to the job, so you won’t lose it. But you need a job earning over 200,000yen a month to renew it after the first (or third) year, and will also need to find your own apartment, and that can cost up to $5000 up front for everything. NOVA and the other places won’t let you stay in their apartments if you quit (although, legally you can stay, NOVA will make your life difficult if you do.)

If you do start with NOVA, don’t ever be late for work. If you out for a night on the piss, whatever you do, crawl out of bed and get into work. It’s a job, deal with it. Also, if you’re a guy, wear a coat as often as possible. Get to know when you’re AT is there and when she/he isn’t. Be nice when they are there. Look nice. Why? Because it’ll help get your feeble pay raise at the end of 12 months if you want it.

NOVA isn’t a career, it won’t give you teaching experience that you can take back to Australia and use. You can use it as a starting point to get into Japan, that’s about it.

Did I enjoy my time with NOVA? Well, some of it was good. Some of it was bad. It’s a job, that’s why they pay us money to do it. I’ve had bad jobs before and I’ll have bad jobs again. But the work environment from NOVA is not conducive to a happy working environment. I have made some good friends who’ll I’ll keep in touch with, and met some great Japanese as well.

But I love living in Japan. Sometimes it is difficult and very stressful, but I’d rather be here now then back in Australia. Looking back, would I still have chosen NOVA? Well, back then I didn’t have a choice. Now, I wish I had chased up on JET and ECC more before I left Australia. But that’s in the past, time to look forward.

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